Monday, August 22, 2016

A New AVA for Virginia?

A recent trip to Fox Meadow Vineyards led to a discussion with owner Dan Mortland about American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Virginia. Three years ago, the most recent AVA in the state hit the map: The Middleburg AVA.

As explained on the wine site "Wines and Vines," grape growers and wineries around the country continue to pursue the creation of additional AVAs, because they believe AVAs pay off in terms of consumer awareness, higher wine prices and eventually higher grape prices (vineyards in the business to just grow grapes, and not operating a tasting room, can get more for their crop if the vineyards reside in an AVA). Those familiar with California AVAs understand the caché of a California bottle which lists "North Coast" or "Central Valley" on the bottle; the same holds true for New York (Finger Lakes; North Fork of Long Island; etc.) The AVAs of Virginia are not as widely known, except for perhaps the Monticello AVA, the birthplace of Virginia wine. Virginia currently boasts seven AVAs, and there is a chance the state could get congested with AVAs, reducing the advantages of residing in an AVA.

This doesn't mean Virginia wineries/vineyards not situated in an AVA produce lesser wines. Some of the most Award-winning and best loved wines/wineries in the state do not reside in an AVA, including Breaux, Pearmund, Prince Michel, Gray Ghost, and Potomac Point. Wineries in this area may not want to spend the resources (money and time) to set up a new AVA, or have the current AVA map revised so their winery can be included in a nearby AVA. For instance, Breaux and other wineries along Harper's Ferry Road in northwest Loudoun county are a scant few miles from the border of the Middleburg AVA; Hiddencroft Vineyards is the northernmost winery in the Middleburg AVA, however Doukenie Winery, about 2 miles from Hiddencroft, is not within the Middleburg AVA borders.

This leads us back to Fox Meadow Vineyards. The winery is sandwiched between two AVAs: Middleburg to the east and Shenandoah Valley to the west. In fact, as Dan explained, one could throw a stone from the bottom of the hill where his last rows of vineyards are grown on, and the stone would land in the Shenandoah Valley AVA. The only issue is Fox Meadow, geographically speaking, is not in the Shenandoah Valley. This factoid may not be an issue with the average Virginia wine fan (many wineries in the Middleburg AVA are nowhere near the town the AVA is named for). But for sticklers to detail (as the Mortlands, and the blog masters, are), not residing in an AVA makes more sense, at the moment, than being included in an AVA where the terrain, soil, and micro climate are different from that of other wineries in that AVA.

One idea for Fox Meadow, and other wineries along the western I-66 corridor, is the formation of a new AVA named "Blue Ridge Crest" (name selected by the good people of Fox Meadow). The soil along the Blue Ridge Mountains lends itself to excellent drainage and the granite deposits in some locations along the crest lead to unique, and fantastic, wines. This new AVA would be liver-shaped (rather appropriate in a morbid kind of way), and the Shenandoah Valley AVA would be to the immediate west. The Middleburg AVA would be along the northern AVA border, and a few vineyards may even straddle two AVAs (which is very common in other states): Aspen Dale Winery, Barrel Oak and Blue Valley in particular.

Map of a possible Blue Ridge Crest AVA:

Many of the Notebook's long-time favorites would benefit from their location in this new AVA:

Sharp Rock:


Rappahannock Cellars:

Chester Gap Cellars:

Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn

Fox Meadow Vineyards (winter wonderland):

Whether or not a new AVA is in the future for this region, the topic makes a great tasting room conversation with enthusiastic winery owners and fellow tasters.